Tea Party forum hears ideas for helping schools weather financial storm

Fayette County Local Issues Tea Party representative Bob Ross complies a list of suggestions made by residents Oct. 30 on possible approaches to address the Fayette county School System’s financial issues that will require up to $20 million in cuts for the school year that begins in July. Photo/Ben Nelms.

It was a chance for Fayette County residents to offer suggestions on ways the Fayette County Board of Education might address the financial dilemma that will require up to $20 million in expense cuts or new revenues to balance the budget for the new school year that begins in July.

Sponsored by the Fayette County Issues Tea Party, the Oct. 30 meeting at Whitewater Country Club attracted approximately 60 people and included several currently serving and others recently elected to the Fayette County Board of Education, Peachtree City Council, Fayetteville City Council and the Fayette County Commission.

Moderated by Bob Ross, the purpose of the meeting was to provide an overview of where the school system stands today and to solicit ideas from the audience on how school system finances might be best utilized both now and in the future.

Audience ideas on the direction the school system should take included nearly 20 suggestions. Ross was quick to note that the occasion was not intended to be one of fault-finding, but rather one that addressed possible solutions to the financial dilemma facing the school system.

One suggestion maintained that Fayette should establish a goal to lower costs without compromising the quality of the school system.

Another in the audience suggested that schools be closed and that some positions, including parapros, would have to be cut. That suggestion was followed by another that proposed cutting administrative positions and those in central office.

And along the lines of cutting the number of employees, one suggestion held that the school board should hire a short-term superintendent, a turn-around specialist, who would spend a year or two getting the school system’s fiscal house in order.

While certainly an interesting idea, it might be one that will be somewhat difficult to accomplish since a new superintendent will likely not be hired until early 2013 and what is projected to be a wealth of expense cuts will need to be reconciled by spring. Though the 2013-2014 budget will not adopted until June, the school system will have to finalize contracts with teachers in May.

Still other suggestions included freezing new expenditures, conducting job position audits along with a periodic assessment of all positions in the school system and adopting a zero-based budgeting philosophy. An affiliated suggestion held that the school system should improve its revenue and expense forecasting.

A school system employee in the audience provided the observation that most school administrators began their careers in the classroom and do not have significant business experience.

“Why do we expect them to know how to manage a $177 million budget?” the teacher asked.

A number of other suggestions centered on the overall community. One in the audience recommended polling the parents of children leaving the school system to determine the reasons for their exit. And another suggested an attempt to reverse the years-long decline in student enrollment by providing younger people and their families a reason to live in Fayette.

Prior to the suggestions from the audience, Ross provided a wealth of information on the school system. Though some of the information dealt with finances, enrollment and enrollment forecasts, much it involved Fayette’s high academic ranking according to various indicators, the economic impact of the continuing recession and the changing demographic pattern that projects a much larger percentage of the aging population in Fayette’s near-term future.